Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Interview with Samuel Z Jones

Samuel Z Jones is a prolific English fantasy writer. He lives on the Isle of Wight, and is perpetually working on several novels simultaneously alongside other projects. 

1.               Tell us about the Akurite Empire series of books.

Well, it's epic fantasy, but I've been told by some readers that what I'm writing goes beyond that definition. This isn't just another Lord of The Rings knock-off about elves in the woods and dwarves in the mines fighting orcs and goblins. There's none of that.

Can I summarise the plot of the whole series? Um... five immortal heroes quest across the history of their world to defeat an enemy from the distant future that plots to invade the past.

The story follows several generations of characters through the rise and fall of nations on a mountain plateau isolated from the rest of their world. Events sometimes take the story beyond this region, but fundamentally the books concern the wars and alliances between Silveneir, Kellia, Daricia and Uria.

The Silvans are a matriarchal, religious culture that arrived from the east several centuries previously, while the Kellions are a patriarchal nation from the distant west. These two cultures are fundamentally polarized and their politics and conflicts comprise much of the back-story underlying the setting. The Darians are a non-human race that dominate the southern half of the plateau; they have as much in common with elves as they do with trolls, being ageless and immortal but also massively strong   and muscular. They are the giants, the titans of this world. Finally, Uria is populated by hybrid beast men who are explicitly not natural races but rather the results of medical experiments involving humans, Darians and animals.

The structure of the series, which now runs to over a dozen books beginning with the Akurite Empire trilogy, is dynastic, so talking about one or two particular characters isn't really helpful; the lives of several hundred fictional people are interwoven so each novel is part of a vast tapestry.

2.               Why did you write this series, and what do you hope to achieve with it?

You've heard of the Neverending Story? Spoiler; it ends. But the idea at least was of a story that didn't. It's something of the holy grail of fantasy; The Worm Ouroborous, or Moorcock's Eternal Champion, Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, and others, have all tried to create a self-contained fantasy world that runs like a perpetual motion machine. Donaldson, I think, came closest quite recently with his Last Chronicles.

I'm going to do it, though. The overall plot forms a time loop, which when complete will allow a reader to pick up the story at any point, at any volume, and read on from there until they come full circle back to the place they started from. At this point, they will discover that the first book they read has a second main plot woven through it that they didn't notice first time around. And then a third time around. And a fourth; each revolution revealing deeper and more detailed stories that were previously invisible. I have the whole thing in draft, I'm halfway through publishing, and already a few readers have noticed the interweaving and layering of plotlines building this marvellous story-machine.

3.               Is there an underlying message in the Akurite Empire series?

I don't set out to make any particular point when I write a novel; the theme or message emerges from the process. Every book, conceptually, is an exploration of human psychology; the way people perceive and construct reality. From that arises the central theme of each book. I think in the current work-in-progress I'm saying something about gender-roles and post-modern feminism, but that's honestly not important if what you want is to read a good yarn about questing knights and women with guns.

4.               Of the characters you’ve created, do you have a favourite? If so, why this particular character?

I approach characters as if I'm getting to know a real person; after all, how well can you really know someone? A supporting character I know about as well as someone I've had a few drinks with, a main character is someone I know as well as a close friend. Conceptually, I wander through an imagined forest meeting various people camping there. Sometimes I spend weeks or months camping with one character, hearing their stories and meeting their friends, before we part ways, perhaps to cross paths again in the future. The first character I had this experience with was Montesinos DeKellia, a character now so well developed that someone actually succeeded in channelling him. The person in question had never read the books; the mannerisms and expression of DeKellia simply overtook him for a few seconds and told him to get lost. He was very shaken afterwards, he'd done a lot of channelling and I sandbagged him with a fictional character.

Eventually, DeKellia told me he was off on his own for a bit and left me to chat with Sabra Daishen. She was his fencing student, a very aggressive but spiritual young woman who in her turn introduced me to knights, outlaws, assassins and a whole host of other people. I've also spent a great deal of time with DeKellia's son and Sabra's sister, who eventually settled down together in a nice house in the woods.

5.               What do you find most rewarding in the writing process?

Reading it when it's done. When writing, the story and imagery are changeable, reading it unfinished is part of the writing and editing process. Once finished, reading it again is like reading something written by someone else, but someone who actually writes what I want to read. I want emotional realism, fully developed ideas, vivid imagery, and that only crystallizes in the finished novel.

It's equally rewarding to know that someone else has read and enjoyed one of my stories; writing is in many ways an exercise in telepathy, I spend a great deal of time creating a highly detailed thought, and writing is the only form we have of transmitting that thought directly to another mind; even film doesn't quite do that, the imagined world is on the screen, while with a book it takes shape within the reader's mind, becomes a place they visit rather than a performance they watch.

6.               What do you find most challenging in the writing process, and how do you overcome it?

Making a living. The modern world keeps hassling me for money. I'd like it to stop, please, and the only way I can find of doing that is to sell enough books so I can write in peace.

7.               Just how do you produce so much work?

The way to learn any skill is to practice every day. The way to get good is to practice every day for hours. To write a book, you open your document and write at least one word per day. With a little effort, you can train yourself to turn out 2000 words a day reliably. With dedication, you can write 5000+ words a day, every day. Emotional and material concerns do affect this; in the best possible state (which isn't, incidentally, being happy and wealthy), I can write 10-15k words a day fairly consistently. Akurite Empire, all 300,000 words of the trilogy, were written in two months. Editing and proofing took a lot longer, but I left it alone for a long time and wrote several other novels in the meantime.

On average, I write three novels simultaneously and finish one or two a year.

8.               Tell us about your interest in martial arts and sword fighting.

From a purely literary perspective, one should write what one knows, even in fantasy. Others disagree, but logically if your genre features large amounts of horse riding, camping, and sword fights, it really isn't tenable to know nothing about them.

Let's see... my grandfathers on both sides of the family were boxers, one a professional coach and the other a bare-knuckle contender. I started Karate aged six and have pursued every opportunity to train any martial art or combat system since; I have about twenty five years of training. I hold a black belt, I've taught martial arts and self-defence in some of the roughest areas of London. Over the past few years, I've pursued Kobudo and Kobujutsu, which broadly means archaic weapons; I've taught nunchaku and fencing, among other things. I really will take any opportunity to grab a shinai (that's a Kendo sword), and bound out into the garden to fight anyone who's willing. Without body armour; padding is for sissies. I'd like to do more work with shields and pole arms, and I've yet to find anyone brave enough to let me come at them with my two-handed war flail... but we really would need armour for that (anyone reading my work may have noticed that I hold a special fondness for the terrifying two-handed flail, aka the threshal, corn flail, or a giant set of nunchuks).

I make an effort not to get technical when writing about swordfights and combat, but I can't help think that direct experience and study can only improve the way I write about these things.

9.               What have you done to promote and market your books, and what advice would you give to other authors?

Until quite recently, I was running all over Facebook waving links at people. I have used Twitter, and it does work, but I really don't like the site, it's like YouTube without videos. Currently I don't have the regular Internet access to make serious marketing efforts, but I do what I can. I'm looking forward to a near future where I can use YouTube and similar media again. Without a huge publicity budget, one really is down to WoM, even if we do that now online.

Advice... unless you can afford to hire a publicist, don't pay for anything. Anyone asking for money to read your book is ripping you off. The writer gets paid to write, they do not pay to be read. If you're already making a living from your books, you might consider hiring an editor or a proof-reader just to speed things up. If you really can afford it, or you're lucky enough to find someone who'll work on commission, hire a publicist.

Don't waste time canvassing blogs and vlogs that purport to review books: these folk are either fan geeks who want to bask in the reflected glory of their existing favourite authors, or money-making enterprises that are only interested in well-known writers (who already get tons of reviews anyway from both of the above).

If you want reviews and interviews, talk to fellow writers who run their own blogs and need regular posts (hi Wayne), these people are far more approachable and professional.

With ebooks, its possible to tap those people who read so much that they'll review anything in their favourite genre in exchange for a freebie. You can get a small fan club going like that, but it's unlikely to be the foundation of wealth and fame.

Ultimately, if you're serious, you have to approach the industry. That means contriving to sit down and have drinks with people already working in some capacity in entertainment: most deals are done at the bar, not over the phone, for what should be the obvious reason that people deal sooner with their friends than with strangers.

10.            Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal reader?

My readership seem to be mostly women. The most common thing people say about my stories is that they love the strong female characters... I'm puzzled by this, I just work for psychological realism. That means all my characters are products of their emotional traumas, as are real people.

My ideal reader, I think, is someone who wants to explore the frontiers of their own mind, and finds my stories a useful map in an infinite territory.

11.            What advice would you give to help others build the confidence required to write novels?

Give up! Give up now! I started writing a novel and it's completely devoured my life! Seriously, don't do it, think of your family, your children, your career...!

...It's not really about confidence. Writing is a learned skill, talent is just the desire to learn. Let the first rule be “Rules are there for a reason”, learn what they are and why they are the rules. Let the second rule be “Rules are there to be broken”, and go wild with your imagination. Let the third rule be “No they're not, get over yourself”, and put in the work necessary to develop technical skill.

Writing a novel is a massive undertaking, and I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who don't seem to realise that the primary skill of a writer is mastery of written language. When you write well enough, in the technical sense of actually knowing what you're doing as with any other skill, then confidence is not a major issue; competence begets confidence.

12.            Tell us about The Flame of Freedom.

This was actually a paid commission; there is a whole world of writing-for-hire which is hard to get into and easy to fall out of, but when you're in it is a great boost: you're actually getting paid a working wage to write! Break out the good booze and smoke a fat cigar.

Flame of Freedom is a story of two halves; George Washington at war, and Betsy Ross in British-occupied Philadelphia. Everyone (I hope) knows who Washington is. Betsy Ross is the woman who physically made the first American flag. It's officially considered an apocryphal story, but having researched it in depth I can say it is absolutely true.

Betsy lived directly across the street from Ben Franklin and was close friends with his daughter Sarah. Betsy was literally at the centre of the Culper Ring, Washington's spy network in Philadelphia.

So The Flame of Freedom follows the men's war on the battlefield and the women's war of espionage.

I'm currently working with the same publisher who hired me for Flame of Freedom, Gabriel Murray. We're working on a screen-adaptation of Hamlet. Gabriel's recent work includes Kingdom of The Crystal Skull and Obama's Irish Roots.

13.            Would you like to see your books adapted for the screen? If so, do you have any aspirations or reservations regarding this?

Yes! Give me my movie cheque! I want to sit in casting sessions while Johnny Depp and Viggo Mortensen literally fight it out to play Montesinos DeKellia! I want to lose my temper with executives who keep presenting willowy bimbos to play the six-foot female body-builder Sabra Daishen! I want to be presented with an endless queue of tattooed models vying to play Sorcha! I want to point out to censors that if Dr Manhattan can spend the whole of Watchmen literally balls-out naked, then there's no reason Isa Maxine can't bound around topless the whole time!

Reservations? Yes, obviously; there are great adaptations and awful ones. The great ones usually let the actual writer of the actual book actually call some shots.

I envisage adaptations of my stories as having the style and sensibility of Excalibur; if I'm writing with a director in mind, it's John Boorman (armed with modern FX and a massive budget). Much as I love the Lord of The Rings movies, the notion that all fantasy should be like that is sorely mistaken. Look at the Narnia films; someone in Hollywood thought that the way to do it was to smash Harry Potter and LOTR headlong into each other. Doing a LOTR treatment on my stories would have roughly the same effect; it's not LOTR, treating it as if it was would not make a good movie. There's no sex in LOTR, just for a start.

14.            Tell us a little about a good fantasy book you’ve read recently.

Currently I'm reading Joseph Campbell, which should say something about my grasp of mythology. I think the last fantasy novel I read was Unseen Academical by Terry Pratchett. I'd avoided this one because it's a fantasy about football, and I have no interest in footie whatsoever. I actually devoured this book in two days flat though because it had something unexpected; a good modern treatment of orcs.

I used to love Orcs as a kid, far more than I liked elves. I've always been disappointed though that Tolkien never went near the orcs as a culture or as characters, and attempts after him to write something about Orcs have always been LOTR knock-offs.

Pratchett's treatment of orcs in Unseen Academicals was brilliant, a well-spoken orc football player... I almost gave up writing completely when I read Pratchett's Nation, but then I thought “He's been writing professionally for over thirty years, of course he's better than I am!” Then I pushed on and finished Akurite Empire, and I personally reckon it's pretty good. I'm not as funny or as sociologically incisive as Pratchett, but then I'm not trying to be: He's definitely an influence, but I'm no more writing Discworld than I am LOTR.

15.            What are you doing now?

Writing or generally? Currently I'm working on the final draft of book three of The Lord Protector series, which is the sequel to Akurite Empire: While Sabra Daishen is away crusading, her most trusted knight attempts to rebuild the nations shattered by war. At the same time, I'm developing the rough drafts of three or four other novels in the same series, getting ready to bring the epic around into its complete loop. I'm also, as I mentioned, working on an adaptation of Hamlet.

Generally, I'm just waiting out the summer before taking a place at Portsmouth University as a mature student. It's about time I got a degree in Creative Writing, and Portsmouth quite reasonably offered me a place on the strength of being a published author, even if I am virtually unknown.

16.            Where can we find you and your books?




Book Two: Fortress of Knighthood




E-book formats available at Smashwords.com
Hardback and paperback editions exclusively from Lulu.com

Monday, 16 April 2012

Interview with The Wimshurst’s Machine (Augusto Chiarle)

The Wimshurst’s Machine is an award-winning 8-member Italian chillout orchestra that plays warm, infectious, environmental music. They are: Augusto Chiarle - sax and synths, Antonio Rapacciuolo - trumpet and cornet, Massimiliano Baudissard – acoustic drums, Roberto Canone  - sax, clarinet and keyboards, Daniele Scerra – electric guitar and visual arts, Fabio Rodi – keyboards and synths, Elvis Bergero – keyboards, and Duilio Chiarle – novels, acoustic and classical guitars. Seamlessly crossing between rock, jazz, world beat and progressive electronica TWM produce themes ideal for big-screen productions. According to co-founder and manager, Augusto Chiarle, The Wimshurst’s Machine is a steampunk project developed between friends and colleagues with little time to play together in person. Thanks to modern computer technology and software packages such as Propellerhead Reason, Apple Garage Band, Symphonic Orchestra, Sound Studio Pro and Apple Soundtrack, members of the band play together and record material even when living apart. 

  1. How and why did you decide on the name The Wimshurst’s Machine?
Back in 2003, my friend Fabio and I just started to think about a music project and while talking in a pub a friend mentioned this old generator from the 18th century. I was really charmed by it, what a shame it’s such a hard name to remember. But now we are TWM and the name will stay as it is.

Fabio & Augusto

  1. What is your definition of ‘Steampunk’ and how does it relate to The Wimshurst’s Machine?
Fantasy and Science Fiction are always an essential part of our albums. If you have something serious to tell, you may also do it while entertaining - just as H.G. Wells and other great writers did. Our 'steampunk' gets inspiration from the early 20th century, mixed with some more modern science fiction. Some call the subgenre “dieselpunk” or “raygun”; we do not mind if it is steam, diesel or ray, we like steampunk in itself, all included. The main idea came from two sources: 1st, the band name. Back in 2003 we chose to name the band after a very steampunk item, one of the very 1st electric generators created by mankind. And 2nd: we always loved the fantastic mix of modernity and retro-styled fashion of certain types of science fiction. That was already the perfect combination, even if the stage costumes only came in late 2010 due to our low budget.


  1. Why did you choose to create electro-acoustic music, and what do you hope to give to your listeners?
The music genre came by itself. We played what we enjoyed to listen to. It’s easier to believe in your music if you like what you play. To the people who buy our CDs, we try to give more than just a collection of good tracks or good songs; we try to build soundtracks for written stories. Every studio album is a concept-album, with a story available as a short novel - Time Traveller (2007), or Thunder & Lightning (2010), or as a podcast - The Alchemist (2005), and A Traveller Who Didn’t Ask For Glory (2004). Often they are available as free downloads from the band’s website. Next to be released is an album, which includes an entire book as a booklet - we’re already working on it. So far, band member Duilio Chiarle, a professional writer with several important awards in his career, has written all the stories. Our Cover art changes, but in Time Traveller (2007) we had a full booklet with great illustrations by our other guitarist, Daniele Scerra - great and talented artist; his illustrations were featured in hundreds of books around the world, particularly Italy, France and Germany.


  1. Tell us about your latest album, Breathe.
Breathe is a live album, our first live album. We like to do something new for every CD project - a new road to explore. The CD is not of a single concert, but a compilation of previously unreleased tracks, played in live jams, recorded between 2010 and 2011. We created a lot of electronic music in the past, so “Breathe” is also a way to say: “You see, we do play live; and we do like to jam. Our music is not just computer-generated.” We also went for the jam sessions because we wanted to give our listeners all new tracks. In Breathe, you’ll find new age, ambient and soft electronica. I believe it is a very good album, which also features the great cover art and photography of the talented Italian photographer, Natalia Ghiani.

  1. Is there an underlying theme or message in your work? 
Always. Music is the only thing that has no race, no country, no boundaries and no social differences. We can all be brothers and sisters in music, no matter what. So our motto is: “Music for a better world.” We also give charity donations of 50% of our earnings from music. Unfortunately, it is never enough.

Time Traveller

  1. Which musicians have influenced you the most, and how?
Personally, when I was a teen, Mike Oldfield and The Alan Parsons Project mostly influenced me; both for the soft electronic style and also for concept-disc projects. When I heard albums such as Crises or I Robot, I was immersed in a story narrated by music - this charmed me the most. Other TWM band members have different influences. For example: with Fabio, it’s Depeche Mode and Jean-Michel Jarre. With Elvis, it’s classical music, and for Roberto and Tony it’s jazz.

  1. Tell us about the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.
This will be the third year in a row we got a nomination in that contest. To be there, interviewed by TV and magazines while you walk on a red carpet, is a great thing. The first year, I went alone and had a lot of fun. Last year, three of us were there and I had even more fun, especially meeting so many talented musicians from around the world, and from every imaginable musical genre. This year, I believe we will be three or even four, and I’m looking forward to it once again. A fun and interesting experience that satisfies the ego and gives some reward for the effort involved in composing music, which is never an easy task. The opportunity to meet new musicians from around the world is magic.

Thunder and Lightning

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process?
When you create something, it’s like having a new baby. What you’ve created is not completely yours anymore and, somehow, it starts a new life by itself. But, it gives you a good feeling. The same feeling you get when you find a good story, or read a good book. It’s somehow an expression of yourself, a slight bit of you that vibrates in the air.

  1. What do you find most challenging in the creative process, and how do you overcome it?
If you want to create something good, you have to be ready to work a lot.  And, regardless of how painful it is, accept that perfection is impossible. So, when the moment comes, you have to be prepared to say, “OK, it’s good enough.” Or you will never complete anything. Saying that something is ‘good enough’ is always a difficult compromise. To compose, we let just let things flow out. So far, during the years, just a couple of us have experienced a pause in the creative flow. But, as there are many of us in the band who compose, they regained it along the way, well before it could become a real problem for the whole band. For one of us, this lasted two years before everything finally returned to normal and was fine. As with everything in life, there are times the ‘real world’ makes you loose your grip on creativity; but creativity is also a cure for the crudeness of the ‘real world’. You have to manage somehow and find a good balance between things; but it isn’t always easy and varies from person to person. At least, I noticed that it is different for each member of TWM, even if seven people don’t count in terms of statistics.

  1. What have you done to promote and market your music, and what advice would you give to other artists?
An independent label distributes us; this is less remunerative, but gives us more freedom. And I like freedom, so I don’t mind earning less money. To promote our music, we mainly use podcasts, websites and Internet radio stations. Our current label, the British label, Astranova, does our promotion; but mainly, we built our own image by ourselves and are trying to gain exposure through the Internet. My advice is: if you want to go for your own artistic expression, be ready to work as bartenders, masons or whatever is necessary while you make your music in your free time. So, if and when success comes, it comes with your own rules. If you like to play cover songs or dancehall or mainstream music, well, this advice may not be for you. But it works for me, as I like to be free to play what I like the most. Oh, and don’t be in a hurry. Success comes when you do not expect it, and seldom without a great bunch of work.


  1. Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal listener?
I believe, anybody who loves steampunk, concept-albums and the fantastic. We have also released a couple of collections: Freedom Lights (2006), and Aquarius (2009) that can be enjoyed by an even wider audience and are also featured in some chillout bars around the world. So, you see, we like to be free but at the same time we do not fill our CDs with intellectual exercises - we decided to put a limit of two ‘experimental tracks’ for every twenty.

  1. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding your music being used in film and television?
Our music was born to be a soundtrack. Actually, we’ve already scored several movies, documentaries and stage plays. Our best placements were: The Quiet Assassin directed by Alex Hardcastle for Channel 4, back in 2006, which used our Freedom Calls as the main title theme, and the Italian movies Avanti, sempre avanti and Polesine, where we scored the entire movies. We love to listen to our music as a soundtrack, be it for a movie, a stage play, a documentary or a novel.

  1. Where can we find you and your work?

Friday, 30 March 2012

Interview with Robert J. Sawyer

Photo Credit: Christina Molendyk

Robert J. Sawyer is one of only eight writers in history to win all three of the science-fiction field’s top awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He has published in Science (guest editorial), Nature (fiction), and Sky & Telescope, was a participant in the workshop “The Future of Intelligence in the Cosmos” sponsored jointly by the NASA Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute, and is a contributor to DARPA’s “100 Year Starship Project.” His website is sfwriter.com.

  1. During your childhood, was there a film, television show, comic or novel, which acted as a primary catalyst to your passion for science fiction?
All of those except for the comic.  On TV, it was Star Trek: The Original Series, on film it was 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as for novels, it was the wonderful book The Enormous Egg by Oliver P. Butterworth.

  1. You have won over forty awards for fiction, including the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and several Aurora awards. What would you say is the key to your critical acclaim and phenomenal success?
Doing that one thing that hard science fiction is traditionally the least good at:  putting believable human characters in fantastic situations.  Most SF—especially hard SF—has cardboard characters; I labor hard to make mine live and breathe.

  1. In the world of publishing, there seems to be ongoing tension between independents and the established, traditional publishers. What advice, or encouragement, can you give to independent authors and publishers? 
For independent authors, remember that quality does matter.  Hire yourself an editor, a copyeditor, a proofreader, and a real cover artist—all four of them.  You’re competing with those who are having those skills brought to their books by their traditional publishers, and each of those experts brings an enormous amount to the finished product.  At the moment, for most independent authors, you’re competing mostly on price, at least in the ebook arena: you’re cheaper than the ebooks from the traditional publishers.  But ebook prices from traditional publishers are bound to drop, and then you have to compete point-for-point with authors who have a solid professional team behind them.

For independent publishers, stop overstating things.  Print publishing isn’t dead, it’s not “legacy publishing,” and you haven’t yet taken over the world and perhaps never will.  For every reader you win over with hype, you turn one off.

  1. Tell us about Triggers.
Well, Publishers Weekly calls it “a turbo-charged technothriller,” and that pleases me because it’s exactly what I was trying to produce.  It’s a slam-bang novel about an attempted assassination of the US president, and an experiment that goes awry, linking people’s memories—including letting some unknown person read the president’s memories, thereby posing a huge risk to national security.

  1. Why did you write this book, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
In 2009-2010, ABC aired a wonderful TV series based on my novel FlashForward.  That novel, like most of my novels, was a thoughtful, philosophical tale, but ABC turned it into a conspiracy-theory thriller—with my approval and cooperation, I hasten to add: I wrote one of the episodes and consulted on all of them. I gained an enormous number of new readers because of that series, but they expected something like what they’d seen on TV—and so I decided to give it to them, while hopefully still serving up the philosophy and introspection my existing readership has come to expect from me.

  1. You are a teacher of science fiction writing who has served as Writer-in-Residence for several prestigious institutions. You are also a highly respected authority and keynote speaker on technology and future genetics with an interest in palaeontology. Did your lifelong interest in science fiction inspire your study of science, and how has it influenced your writing?
I was a science fan first, ever since I was a little boy. When I was in public school, I wanted to be a palaeontologist, and I was also fascinated by astronomy.  It was definitely my interest in science that led me to science fiction, not the other way around.  For me, the most interesting questions in science are the speculative ones  why did the dinosaurs die out (which was a big mystery when I was a kid), what causes galaxies to have the shape they do (which is still a big mystery).  The speculation fascinated me, and when I found there was a field of literature devoted to asking such questions and positing entertaining and intriguing answers, I was hooked.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the writing process?
Feedback from readers.  My readers have been hugely supportive over the years, and many have become friends.  It’s so gratifying to know that they’re enjoying my work.  I write for them.

  1. What do you find most challenging, and how do you overcome it?
Keeping up my own level of interest during the year-long process of creating a book.  Around about the halfway mark, when I’ve finished all the research and am well into the manuscript, I start to get antsy for moving on to my next project. Fortunately, I know other writers, including the wonderful horror writer Edo van Belkom, who have the exact same problem. They talk me through my crisis, and I talk them through theirs.  It’s always worked—so far!

  1. Rationalism versus mysticism and the intersection between science and religion is often explored in your work. Do you come from a religious family background, do you have strong religious views, and would you argue that there is a place for religion in science fiction?
Exactly the opposite.  I come from a secular background.  My father is a non-practicing Anglican and my mother is a Unitarian—and I’m an atheist.  But unlike most atheists, I don’t disparage those who have beliefs.  I’ve met too many thoughtful, questioning, intelligent people who believe in God to dismiss them.  I don’t have any patience with fundamentalists, but those are only the fringe, fortunately.  And given that science fiction is indeed the literature of ideas, there are no more interesting ideas to explore than whether there are intellects greater than our own that might have had a hand in how we got here, and what might become of us after we die.  I explore the former in Calculating God and the latter in The Terminal Experiment, and I think it’s only in science fiction, with its tradition of grand thought experiments, that you really can grapple with such issues.

  1. In a genre where many writers opt for dystopia, disaster and nihilism, your work is often refreshingly optimistic particularly regarding the future of humanity. Tell us why you believe the future of the human race is bright.
Simple:  the central skill of the science fiction writer is the extrapolation of trends, and the world has been consistently improving over time.  The smallest percentage of the population ever is currently involved in armed combat, the highest number are literate, and so on.  We also are more compassionate than we’ve ever been, according the rights of personhood to a larger proportion of the human race than ever before.  If you don’t believe me, read the excellent non-fiction books The Evolution of God by Robert Wright and The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker.

  1. My wife is Armenian and the cosmopolitan approach to science fiction pioneered by the original Star Trek is very close to my heart. With prominent characters such as Karen Bessarian in Mindscan, and Professor Ranjip Singh in Triggers, can we deduce that the inclusion of diverse races and cultures is important to your work? And if so, why?
Absolutely. I grew up watching the original Star Trek, and that inclusiveness just seemed so natural to me.  Plus, I grew up in Toronto, which the UN officially recognized as the most multicultural city on the planet.  The future belongs to the whole human race; I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t reflect that in my fiction.

  1. Tell us about FlashForward.
It’s a novel about everyone on Earth blacking out for two minutes, and those who survived waking up with overlapping visions of what, it seems, the future is actually going to hold.  My novel came out in 1999, and it was adapted for television by ABC Studios in 2009. 

  1. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the screen adaptation of your original books?
I loved the FlashForward TV series, and I’d very much like to see other works of mine adapted for the big or small screen.  I have no problem with liberal adaptations; after all, my books, with my specific visions, will always still exist.

  1. Tell us a little about a good science fiction or fantasy book you’ve read recently.
Julian Comstock: A Novel of 22nd Century America, by Hugo Award-winner Robert Charles Wilson.  It takes on religious fundamentalism in the US, and, with some of the current debates going on, it could not be more timely.  Plus, it’s a joy to read.

  1. What new developments, in the world of science fact, excite you?
Exo-planets!  I love that we finally are discovering strange new worlds—and that so many of them are so strange is just fabulous.

  1. Tell us about your other interests.
I love palaeontology, I used to captain a pub-league trivia team, I enjoy reading, and I love to travel.


Website: http://sfwriter.com
Blog: http://sfwriter.com/blog
Dedicated website for my WWW trilogy: http://wakewatchwonder.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/RobertJSawyer
Facebook: http://facebook.com/robertjsawyer